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10 posts from April 8, 2014

April 08, 2014

So far, Senate favoring big beer over craft breweries

Under a bill that passed the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee on Tuesday, craft brewers will finally be able to sell their concoctions in 64 ounce containers that are legal in 47 other states and popular for home consumption.

Unfortunately, in exchange, the bill requires that before the specialty brewers can sell to their customers, they would first have to sell to distributors, who would then sell the beer back at a markup to the brewers, even if the beer never leaves the establishment.

“It comes down to, we want a simple bottle size, 64 ounces, that’s it, it’s very simple,” said Josh Aubuchon, a Holland & Knight lobbyist who represents the Florida Brewers Guild, a consortium that counts 90 local breweries in Florida, including 28 in the Tampa Bay region. “And instead you have these other forces wanting to pull this red tape and this bureaucratic nonsense on breweries that are growing at a very healthy rate...It’s ludicrous.”

By an 8-1 vote, SB 1714 passed with help from its sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Yes, craft breweries would have to sell the beers they produce to a distributor, and then buy them back, but Stargel said that’s meant to protect the industry’s three-tier system: manufacturer, distributor, vendor.

“The reason why we have the distribution system is to make sure that we have some certainty in what beer has been brewed and what beer has gone into the vendor system because each step alonog the way there are various taxes collected,” said Stargel, sounding quite unlike the small government, anti-regulation Republican she is. “The three tier system was established so that we had very trackable brew through the process. We know how much beer is brewed, it then goes to the distribution center and basically comes to rest so we know how much beer is there, the level of taxation there, and then there’s the beer that goes out to the vendors. In it’s purest form, the three tier system says you can’t be more than one of those. Either you’re a brewer, either you’re a distributor, either you’re a vendor.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was the only no vote and likened Stargel’s proposed “distribution” system to paying off crime syndicates. He proposed an amendment that would require distributors to actually buy the beer and move it to their warehouse before delivering it back to the brewer to sell to the customer.

“If (brewers) are going to have to pay this tariff, sort of like protection to Vinny in New York, then they should at least have to move the goods,” he said.

But the committee voted against the amendment. Latvala then tried some fancy manuevering to kill the bill. Although he spoke out against it, Latvala initially voted for it. But then he made a motion to reconsider the bill, which he could since he was on the prevailing side of the vote.

Yet rather than delay a vote, holding it for another meeting, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, moved that the bill be considered "instanter", which means "immediately."

When the committee voted a second time on the bill, Latvala voted no. Afterward, he walked over to Thrasher clutching a rules book. As the meeting continued, the two men huddled and whispered.

Finally, Latvala walked away, but not before telling Thrasher: "You don't make up the rules."

Latvala was gone by meeting's end. Thrasher was still there.

"He didn’t want to vote on it," said Thrasher, who happens to be the Senate's Rules chairman. "He thought by reconsidering, it would leave it in the committee, which would mean the bill is dead effectively because we’re not meeting."

If anything, the series of events underscores the might of Big Beer. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has already told the Associated Press that he supports the bill as a favor to Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor Lewis Bear, a major GOP donor.

And distributors are already contributing heavily to Stargel’s campaign finances. According to the Florida Division of Elections records of her 2016 Senate race, Stargel collected at least $6,000 from beer distributors since late last year, or about 12 percent of her total.

Last month, Aubuchon lobbied to water down a similar measure in the House. But the Senate version now only has one committee stop left, Rules, before it's up for a full Senate vote.






A loophole costing Miami-Dade school system $60 million may get fixed by Legislature

It’s become commonplace in Miami-Dade County: Agents file property-tax appeals for homeowners — sometimes without their permission — in hopes of sharing in the refund.

For some agents and homeowners, the practice has yielded thousands of dollars.

But for the Miami-Dade school system, a $4 billion public agency funded partially by property taxes, it could cause a $60 million hole in the budget, superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

Miami-Dade lawmakers are working to help.

Last week, state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, introduced legislation that would require homeowners to sign off on property-tax appeals. He added the provision, plus language limiting the length of the appeals process, to HB 651.

"It closes the infectious loophole that has created a cottage industry of property appeals that are triggered — not by the property owners — but by those who profit from the hearings themselves," he said.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, plans to add similar language to a proposal in the Senate, he said.

School district leaders are grateful. But they are still hoping for additional legislation that would allow them to fill the budget hole without raising taxes.

Read more here.

Miami Dade College president slams local lawmakers over sales-tax bill

Branding them ‘bullies’’ and “idealogues,” Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón blasted a handful of powerful local lawmakers on Tuesday, charging that they are sabotaging his school’s best hope for a desperately needed infusion of money.

Padrón’s unusually blunt remarks, made to the Miami Herald editorial board, came as a bill circulates in Tallahassee that would allow a Miami-Dade voter referendum on a proposed half-penny sales tax to benefit MDC. The college projects the five-year-long hike, if approved by voters, would raise about $1 billion.

This same half-penny bill has been proposed three times before, with anti-tax lawmakers repeatedly refusing to allow the question to go on the ballot. Past polling suggests the measure has a strong chance of passing, should it ever reach county voters.

This year, Padrón said it is a group of conservative Miami-Dade House Republicans who are trying to kill the measure — going beyond simply voting against it to organize broader opposition, a campaign he said had "crossed the line."

"They want to show their force," Padrón said. "It’s who has more power, and who can show more power."

Padrón identified the measure’s four key foes as state Reps. Jose Oliva, Carlos Trujillo, Michael Bileca, and Frank Artiles.

Two of the lawmakers reached on Tuesday, Oliva and Trujillo, quickly fired back, calling Padrón’s attack uninformed and unfair.

Oliva, in line to take over the influential House Speaker’s post in four years, said he is opposed to increasing taxes on a community that is still recovering from a bad economy.

He called it "unfortunate" that Padrón had turned to personal attacks.

"Is this the kind of reactionary response we can expect when we disagree with leaders in our community?" said Oliva, who represents Miami Lakes.

Read more here.

Jeb's 'pandering' on immigration, says Rep. Labrador

From the Shark Tank Blog

During the Heritage Foundation’s monthly “Conversation with Conservatives” meeting with right-of- center Republican congressmen on Capitol Hill, a reporter asked the panel to opine on Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” comment regarding immigration reform.

Idaho congressman Raul Labrador (R), who pulled out of the House bipartisan immigration reform effort, said he disagreed with Bush’s comments, and added that “Comments like Jeb Bush’s and other Republicans, what they do is pandering to a certain group of people.”

Here's the rest of the post and the video:

Sachs puts the brakes on greyhound racing de-coupling as hearing 'melts down'

The effort to reduce greyhound racing in Florida hit the skids Tuesday as the sponsor of the amendment was forced to withdraw it after infighting within the industry made it impossible for her to win the votes.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, withdrew the measure as worries about election year politics, the looming uncertainty of a gaming compact, and infighting between the bitterly competitive gaming industry overshadowed the debate.

"It was a meltdown,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, after the meeting.

The Senate Gaming Committee voted unanimously to require dog tracks to report injuries for the first time and passed SB 742 by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. The bill imposes fines on track veterinarians who fail to report race-related injuries and follows a similar bill passed last year that requires tracks to report greyhound deaths. In the first 9 months, 74 greyhound deaths were reported – more than one every three days. 

Sachs wanted to expand the injury reporting bill by adding an amendment that would have allowed dog tracks -- for the first time in Florida history -- to operate their poker rooms and slot machines without live racing. Sachs has supported a similar bill for the past four years and it is vigorously backed by animal rights activists, dozens of whom crowded the committee meeting room for the hearing.

Continue reading "Sachs puts the brakes on greyhound racing de-coupling as hearing 'melts down'" »

Sachs puts the brakes on greyhound racing de-coupling as hearing 'melts down'

The effort to reduce greyhound racing in Florida hit the skids Tuesday as the sponsor of the amendment was forced to withdraw it when it appeared she didn't have the votes.
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach,  withdraw the measure as worries about election year politics, the looming uncertainty of a gaming compact and the annual jealousies of the bitterly competitive gaming industry overshadowed the debate. 
"It was as melt-down,'' said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Tampa, after the meeting. He argued aggressively that the animals lovers in the packed committee room were "being used" by the profiteers in the racing industry to pass a bill being push for economic, not humane, reasons.
The Senate Gaming Committee passed the bill to require dog tracks to report injuries, however. But Sachs said she needed to work out some kinks in her bill when others believed it was designed to provide a secret channel for Genting to move into Miami, for dog tracks with dormant permits to be revived, etc. 
Sachs' effort came with some subtle but high-level pressure. As the committee debated her bill, Senate President Don Gaetz arrived in the room and pulled senators aside. His son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a sponsor of the measure in the House, sat in the audience as did Gaetz's wife, Vicky, an animal lover.
Sachs said she will work on another version in an attempt to push it through. 

Prison workers want equal pay from Legislature

The 2014 legislative session is at the point when people do whatever they can to call attention to what appear to be lost causes.

Frustrated state correctional officers, along with Teamsters Union representatives, held a news conference and called on lawmakers Tuesday to raise their pay to levels equal with state law enforcement officers such as troopers and game wardens. That would cost about $30 million, Teamsters say, and it's affordable in a year when the state has a projected $1 billion surplus.

Teamsters agent Les Cantrell said Gov. Rick Scott has not done enough to help the officers. "We have not seen the support from him," said Cantrell, whose union replaced the Florida Police Benevolent Association as bargaining agent for guards. "I don't get the message from the governor that he is looking out for (them)."

Cantrell said the typical correctional officer is 42 years old with a spouse and children. "These are people with families. They cannot go on making what they're making and survive," he said.

Corrections Sgt. Thomas Johnson, 39, has worked for the state for 13 years and is paid $36,000 a year at Marion Correctional in Ocala, where is said morale suffers because of low pay, and that turnover remains rampant as officers find better-paying jobs at county jails. Because staff vacancies create huge gaps in security, Johnson said he volunteers to work 12-hour shifts for four and five consecutive days.

"The fatigue factor starts to set in. Are you at the same level of alertness? Absolutely not," Johnson said.

The Teamsters' chief lobbyist, Ron Silver, who served three decades as a Democratic legislator, called the Legislature's treatment of correctional officers "intolerable, unjust and it might even be criminal."

The state Department of Corrections has not yet responded to requests for comment on the officers' complaints.


Greyhounds have a quiet, but powerful, advocate in Vicky Gaetz


Photo (11)Florida greyhounds have a powerful, unofficial, lobbyist.

Vicky Gaetz, the wife of Senate President Don Gaetz and mother to House Rep. Matt Gaetz made a rare appearance Tuesday at a press conference to show her support for a bill to be heard on Tuesday to end the requirement that dog tracks operate live racing to keep their slot machine and poker permits. 

She also did something very unusual for a Gaetz. She didn't speak. Unlike her husband and son, she's not good at it, she told Herald/Times, as her eyes welled in tears of sympathy for the dogs.


"If I tried to speak I would be sobbing,'' she said. "In a civil society, it doesn't seem right to have these noble animals be caged and forced to race when they don't have to be.''

The bill will be up for a vote in the Senate Gaming Committee this afternoon.

Gaetz uses a wheelchair after suffering from complication when giving birth to her daughter that rendered her a paraplegic. Although her husband and son are supporters of the bill to "de-couple" racing from the gambling permits she said she has not had to push them to be supporters. Gaetz said she has long been an animal lover, has adopted four rescue cats and has been a supporter of humane societies throughout the state. 

"I've not pushed either of them in this direction,'' she said but added she's proud that her children have adopted their own rescue pets. "A child raised in our househould would be naturally inclined to love animals."

Photo: Adopted greyhounds with Vicky Gaetz with Kate MacFall of the Humane Society of the United States in Tallahassee. 

Report faults Fla. vote but state says issues fixed

A new report by the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts says states generally fared better in 2012 than previously in their handling of elections and voting. But the report singled out Florida as an exception, concluding that wait times for voters increased by 16 minutes, when elsewhere in the U.S., wait times decreased by three minutes.

Pew's main conclusion: "Florida is neither a high- nor low-performing state, and though its overall EPI (Elections Performance Index) score increased slightly between 2008 and 2012, the boost was less than the average improvement across the country. Florida was held back to a large degree by dramatic spikes in average wait time to vote and rejected registrations."

The Pew report is here.

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, immediately debunked the report's findings, noting that the Legislature passed a series of changes to the election laws in the 2013 session that addressed many of Pew's findings. (How effectively those changes improved things won't definitively be known until this fall, when Florida has statewide primary and general elections).

The full text of Detzner's statement: “The previous practices reviewed in the report no longer reflect today’s voting laws because of last year’s reforms and we will continue to work with Pew as they develop their next report. This 2012 report validates the actions we took in working with supervisors of elections and the Legislature last year that created an historic amount of early voting locations and more voting hours than ever before. We addressed many of the topic areas assessed in the report with HB 7013, which expanded voter access and transparency.” 

Dem Poll: 58% want Fla to expand Medicaid coverage


A newly released Public Policy Polling poll for the liberal group MoveOn.org finds Charlie Crist beating Republican Gov. Rick Scott 49 percent to 42 percent. That's an oddly big shift toward Crist, who barely led Scott, 43 percent to 41, in a January PPP survey.

This latest poll shows 58 percent of voters favor the state accepting federal money to expand Medicaid expansion, and 42 percent said Crist's support for accepting that money makes them more likely to support the likely Democratic nominee.

More here


"This polling doesn’t pass the common sense test," said Rick Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair. " A Democratic pollster, working for a Democratic attack group, not only found Charlie Crist winning in Florida, but also claims Republicans are losing noncompetitive races in Kansas and Georgia. Despite the outlandish claims made in this polling, Charlie Crist will continue to be weighed down by the disaster known as Obamacare and his support for the policies of a deeply unpopular president.

 "And if you think PPP is an accurate outfit, please call Congresswoman Sink’s office for her response.”